I have been meaning to watch the Hawks-Cavs game since they played last Friday. Today is Wednesday (now it’s Thursday, as I didn’t have time to finish this on Wednesday, alas). I’ve managed to avoid finding out who won the game for the past five (now six) days. Hooray for me and the little games I play with myself.
The basketball season is long. Life is big and filled with more than a regular season basketball game between two teams that are not your favorite team (Boston) or Western-Conference-adopted-team (Golden State, and yes, I adopted them four or five years ago, not this year). Still…these Hawks have clawed their way into my basketball heart this season. As a birthday present, my wife is I really want to see them send a message to the Cavs before the playoffs start. I’ll end up watching that game on Friday morning. I’ll fast forward through the free-throws. I’ll mute the endless organ music that accompanies every Hawks possession. Then the game will end. I will press, “delete,” and, hopefully, I will feel more confident about the Hawks chances in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
But the first question is:
Who will they play in round one?
The six teams currently ranked 7th-12th in the standings are busy elbowing, limping and smack-talking each other into oblivion. Will my beloved Celtics find a way to sneak into that 8th spot and become Atlanta’s playoff opponent in mid-April?
The post-Isaiah-trade Celtics are certainly a feisty and exciting bunch. Since the trade deadline, which coincided with Jared Sullinger’s season-ending foot injury, Brandon Bass has been able to relax and has thrived in an elevated role. Isaiah is doing exactly what Ainge and Stevens envisioned: sparking the offense, especially the reserves, and leading the team in tight 4th quarter situations. Jae Crowder is a versatile defender, bringing great energy and tempo. European imports (by way of Detroit) Jonas Jerebko and Luigi Datome have shown flashes. Everyone, yes everyone, is contributing. Reminds you of Stevens’ Butler teams, doesn’t it?
During the 4th Quarter at Miami, I found myself getting anxious. These wins actually mean something. The end result may not be a championship for this team, but that’s fine with me. Getting to 35 or 37 wins is meaningful when you’re building something. Having a chance to dip your collective toes in the playoff pool means something to each of these players. Doesn’t matter if it ends up being four games or six games. (I can’t delude myself into thinking they can force a 7th game against Atlanta, much less win the series). With a few minutes left, Isaiah penetrated, twisting in mid-air, and releasing the ball over the outstretched arms of Chris Anderson (I think), but landed awkwardly on his back and side. He stayed down. We all held our breath. Thomas stayed on the court, but was in obvious distress. The next two possessions, my eyes stayed focused on him as he attempted to stay with his defender, limping around the court. Isaiah is the spark plug. The Celtics offense desperately needs him over these last 19 games. As of today (March 12), he is doubtful for Friday night and Saturday night.
EASTERN CONFERENCE SWAMP RACE (for 7th and 8th)
- 7th. Indiana Pacers (29-34). Hollinger odds: 87.6%
- 8th. Miami Heat (29-35). 40.4%
- 9th. Charlotte Hornets (28-35). 33.1%
- 10th. Boston Celtics (27-36): 30.3%
- 11th. Brooklyn Nets (25-38): 7.5%
ESPN Boston’s Chris Forsberg’s write-up after last night’s last-minute victory over Memphis was excellent in explaining Brad Stevens’ after-time-out play-calling and how efficient these Celtics have become at executing under pressure. As the Celtics near the final stretch of this season, they are carving out an identity and a future path. It is wonderful to see. Without a doubt, this bodes well for our future Celtics.
Consider this: Since Jan. 22, the night Turner hit a late 3-pointer to beat the Portland Trail Blazers and seemingly lit the fuse on the Celtics’ recent turnaround, Boston is averaging 0.947 points per play in after-timeout situations, according to Synergy Sports play-type data. If maintained, that number would rank the team third in the league behind only the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Clippers (led by Boston’s former Czar of the Whiteboard, Doc Rivers).
For the season, the Celtics rank sixth overall in ATO efficiency at 0.906 points per play, according to Synergy data. The five teams in front of Boston all currently project as playoff squads, which speaks to the value of crisp execution coming out of timeouts (especially when you consider that 16.2 percent of the Celtics’ total plays this season have come in those situations).
Boston is 14-10 in its past 24 games, and 7-3 in its past 10. What’s more, 16 of those previous 24 games have seen the Celtics within five points of their opponents in the final five minutes, and Boston owns a 9-7 mark in those games. (That .563 winning percentage ranks the Celtics in the top 10 among all NBA teams in clutch games during that span.)
Date, Opponent, record
(Last 10), Health Factor: (A=Perfect health; F=Horribly injured),
Winnability: (out of 100%)
Fri, 3/13 vs. ORL (21-45)
(4-6), HF: C. Vucevic (ankle), Fournier (hip).
W: 70% Unlikely to see Isaiah. Magic played well vs BOS in ORL last week.
Sat, 3/14 @ IND (29-34)
(9-1), HF: B. Hibbert (elbow), Miles (foot), George won’t return on 3/14 “still a way’s away.”
W: 35% Hot Indy team, 2nd of B2B. Away game. Unlikely to see Isaiah.
Mon, 3/16 vs. PHI (14-50)
(2-8), HF: doesn’t matter until Embiid returns and they start trying to win games.
W: 85%. 3rd game in 4 days prevents it from being 95%.
Wed, 3/18 @ OKC (35-29)
(6-4), HF: C. Durant not expected back for 1-2 weeks from yesterday, which puts him on track for the weekend after this game.
W: 45%. Even without Durant, the Thunder have the otherworldly Westbrook, decent depth, and a raucous home crowd. Much will depend on C’s health (Bradley and Thomas), Zeller’s ability to thwart Kanter, and all C’s rebounders keeping Ibaka from destroying us.
Further into March
Fri, 3/20 @ SA
Sun, 3/22 vs DET
Mon, 3/23 @ BKN
Wed, 3/25 vs MIA
Fri, 3/27 @ NYK
It’s been a topsy-turvy season. The “Why not us?” element runs deep with this bunch. A team full of quality role players are truly pulling for each other and the energy they play with is intoxicating. If health permits….